Piano History

The Modern Piano








Development of the modern piano

  • During this period, the Mozart-era piano first developed by Cristofori in the early 1700's underwent tremendous changes that led to the modern form of the piano we know of today.
  • Composers and pianists were clamoring for a more powerful, sustained piano sound.
  • Piano manufacturers were able to satisfy them by using technological resources availble through the Industrial Revolution syuch as higher quality steel for the piano strings and precision casting for the production of iron frames.
  • Over time, the tonal range of the piano also increased from the five octaves of Mozart's day to the seven and one quarter octave range found on pianos today.

The Square Piano


  • The square piano had horizontal strings arranged diagonally across the rectangular case above the hammers.  The keyboard set in the long side.
  • It originated when German builders tried to adapt Cristofori's pianoforte to the traditional rectangular shape of the clavichord.
  • The Square piano was popular because of its inexpensive construction and price. It began losing popularity around 1900 as grand pianos became more affordable and thus more desirable.
  • The Square Piano performance and tone were often limited by simple actions and closely spaced strings.


  • John Broadwood increased the range of the piano keyboard to five and one-half octaves during the 1790's, six octaves by 1810 and seven octaves by 1820. He built pianos for both Joseph Haydn and Ludvig van Beethoven.
  • Sebastien Erard invented the double escapement action, which permitted rapid playing of repeated notes pioneered by Franz Liszt. This action eventually evolved to become the standard in grand pianos and is still used in grand pianos today.

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1. Hammer head 4. Key 6. Damper head
2. Intermediate lever 5. Check head 7. Repetition spring
3. Jack    
  • This design included a spring that was adjustable in strength to support the weight of the hammer after it strikes the string. The spring allowed the hammer to be ready to strike the string again without having to first return to its resting place
  • The top image shows the key at rest
  • The bottom image shows the action after the hammer has struck the string.


Major Technical Innovations

  • Chickering and Mackay patented the first full iron frame for grand pianos in 1843. This allowed piano makers to use more numerous and thicker strings strung at greater tension. This allowed for a bigger and more robust sound.
  • In 1826, Henri Pape introduced the use of felt hammer coverings instead of the commonly used layered leathered coverings. This allowed for wider dynamic ranges as heavier hammer weights and string tensions increased.
  • The sostenuto pedal (middle pedal on the modern piano that sustains only the notes played at the same time the pedal is depressed), invented in 1844 by Jean Louis Boisselot and improved by the Steinway piano manufacturer in 1874, gave the pianist a wider range of effects.
  • The use of "choirs" of three strings rather than two strings per note for all but the lower notes was instituted during the early 1800's
  • Overstringing was invented by Jean Henri Pap during the 1820's and was first patented for use in grand pianos in the United States by Henryt Steinway, Jr. in 1859. When overstringing a piano, the strings are placed in a vertically overlapping slanted arrangement, with two heights of bridges on the soundboard instead of just one. This allowed for larger strings to fit within the piano case.


The Upright Piano

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  • In 1800, Matthias Muller in Vienna and John Isaac Hawins in Philadelphia both produced vertical standing pianos in which, for the first time, the strings were extended behind the keyboard to the floor.
  • Robert Wornum patented a reduced height "cottage" piano in 1811.
  • The cottage piano became instantly popular as it took up less space than a grand or square piano
  • A tape-check action was employed by Wornum to prevent the hammer from bouncing back on the string after is had struck the string in the vertical action. The tape was tied to a wire set into a roacking lever which also housed the jack, check head and the damper.
  • By 1870, Henry Steinwayt perfected the vertical stringing system that included the iron frame and overstringing that was already present in the grand piano.
  • Lower production cost and smaller footprint propelled the upright piano into most homes by the end of the 1800's.
  • By the beginning of the 1900's, the upright piano became the only alternative to the grand piano.

Modern upright and grand pianos attained their present forms by the end of the 19th century.

The following are pianos that are available for purchase today:

Vertical Pianos

Vertical piano strings run up and down with an overall height of 36 to 60 inches. 

There are basically 4 different types of vertical pianos.



  • Smallest of the vertical pianos
  • 36 to 38 inches tall
  • About 58 inches wide
  • Good for use in limited space such as in an apartment


  • Slightly larger than the spinet
  • 40 to 43 inches tall
  • About 58 inches wide
  • Made with direct action for better sound


  • Used in schools and music studios
  • 45 to 48 inches tall
  • About 58 inches wide
  • Larger soundboard and longer strings give it better tone quality


  • Tallest vertical piano ranging from 50 to 60 inches in height
  • About 58 inches in width
  • Type of piano your grandparents or great grandparents used to play in their parlor

Horizontal Pianos

Horizontal pianos are also called grand pianos.  Their strings run horizontally along the length of the piano. 

There are 6 basic types of grand pianos.

Petite Grand

  • Smallest of the grand pianos
  • Ranges in size from 4 feet 5 inches to 4 feet 10 inches long
  • Least expensive of the grand pianos

Baby Grand

  • 4 feet 11 inches to 5 feet 6 inches in length
  • Most popular grand piano because of it's sound quality, aesthetic appeal and affordability

Medium Grand

  • Larger than the baby grand at 5 feet 7 inches

Parlor Grand

  • Also called the living room piano
  • 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet 1 inch in length

Semi-concert or Ballroom Grand

  • Next size up from the parlor grand at 7 feet in lentgh

Concert Grand

  • The largest of the grand pianos
  • 9 feet or larger in length
  • Used in concert halls

All piano photos www.corribmoving.com/piano-moving.php